Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

It was interesting to see two articles in Scottish newspapers today about the commemoration of the First World War. One was by Joan McAlpine MSP in the Daily Record and the other was by Alex Massie in The Scotsman

Both writers came to different conclusions but in both cases they used incorrect and widely quoted statistics about Scotland and the Great War.

The first is the number of Scottish WW1 war dead. This is often quoted as 150,000. This figure is taken from the total number of war dead recorded in the rolls of honour in the Scottish National War Memorial. Researchers are still finding names to add so the current total is just over 147,00 names.

This figure is based on all the names in all the rolls. That means the men of the Lovat Scouts who died in Salonika after December 1916 are recorded in two rolls - The Lovat Scouts and the Queens Own Cameron Highlanders - because between then and the end of the war they were the 10th Bn Cameron Highlanders. There were several other yeomanry regiments in the same situation; Black Watch battalions of Scottish Horse and Ayrshire Yeomanry in the Royal Scots Fusiliers. All these men died once but are recorded twice.

Many men served in more than one regiment during the war for a variety of reasons. A man may have enlisted in the Highland Light Infantry, transferred to the Royal Scots and by the time of his death be serving in The Northumberland Fusiliers. One soldier, one death but three entries in the rolls of honour in Edinburgh Castle.

There is a roll specifically for Scottish soldiers serving in English regiments but there is no roll for Englishmen serving in Scottish regiments. Each bay in the Scottish National War Memorial for a Scottish infantry regiment records the men who served in them irrespective of nationality. The men from Manchester who served in the Royal Scots, the Dubliners in the Black Watch, the Leicester men in the Seaforth Highlanders are all counted as Scots in the SNWM. If they happened to serve in two regiments they are double-counted too.

So if there weren't 150,000 Scottish war dead in the First World War how many did actually die? There is no accurate figure but it's probably around 100,000 - 110,000. However until all the post-war dead who died of wounds into the 1920's are found and counted an accurate figure is still impossible to determine.

We now come onto the second statistic. The five thousand war memorials which the Scottish Government have set up a £1m fund to help restore is based on a figure taken from Wikipedia.

A civil servant tasked with a press release must have gone onto Google, typed in "Scottish War Memorials" and got this Wikipedia page. At the time the figure of total Scottish war memorials was given as between 5,000 and 6,000. This had been based on one-tenth of the estimated UK total of war memorials provided by the Imperial War Museum's United Kingdom National Inventory of War Memorials (UKNIWM). I know this because I wrote the Wikipedia page when that number was 55,000.

In the last couple of years the UKNIWM has revised its figure to 100,000 and the Scottish War Memorials Project has estimated that there are 8,000 to 10,000 war memorials in Scotland based on the comprehensive recording work done in Dumfries & Galloway. This figure includes all Scottish war memorials, not just the ones erected after the First World War.

In the SWMP we categorise our memorials as civic, church, unit, school, individuals and others. There are just over 1,400 civic war memorials in Scotland, the memorials paid for and erected by locals and used as the focus of remembrance by communities each November. Of that figure 1,200 are on high streets and in prominent locations in our towns and villages across Scotland. These 1,200 Celtic crosses, obelisks, cairns and statues are the ones the First Minister had in mind when he launched the War Memorial Restoration Fund but they are only a fraction of the memorials in our country.

There will be many more newspaper articles about Scotland in the First World War in the months to come, lets hope that as the centenary approaches we see a little less reliance on Wikipedia and a lot more accuracy.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Ancestry supporting the Royal British Legion

For each view of the video below, until 20 November will donate £1 (up to a maximum of £10,000) to Royal British Legion Trading Limited which gives its taxable profits to The Royal British Legion (Charity no. 219279).

Please share the video with your friends and family.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

How the Scottish won the English Civil War

Book review by Adam Brown

A bugbear of the SMRG is the use of the term English Civil War to describe the wars of the mid-seventeenth century which ranged from Cornwall to Caithness and from Dundee to Duncannon. It wasn’t one war and it wasn’t just the English. The accepted description is now the War of Three Kingdoms.

That being said, Alisdair McRae can be forgiven for its use for the title of his latest book How the Scottish won the English Civil War because his main focus is on the Scottish intervention in the three English Civil Wars of 1644-46, 1648 and 1649-51 (and he classes the three wars as one).

 McRae uses an unusual angle to take us through that history. He follows one Scottish cavalry regiment – Colonel Hugh Frazer's Dragoones - from their raising in 1643 to their disbandment in 1647. By using their story he explains the impact of the war on ordinary Scottish soldiers, and since Fraser’s Dragoons were involved in the Scottish Civil War it explains the presence of those battles in a book about the English Civil Wars. But what piece about Scotland in this period could not mention Montrose?

McRae’s book pivots on Fraser’s Dragoons from 1643-47 and the greatest value from this book is explaining in clear terms how battles like Marston Moor – seen today as very much as an English Royalist Cavalier vs Parliamentarian Roundhead battle - and one of the key battles of the First English Civil War - was decisively influenced by the presence of Covenanting blue bonnets from over the border. In fact he likens the Scottish intervention at Marston Moor, and the North of England, as akin to the US entry into the two World Wars. He also points out that where Englishmen might have baulked at killing fellow Englishmen, battle-hardened Scots felt no such qualms.

 This work isn’t just about the First English Civil War though. McRae goes back to the late sixteenth century as a prologue to give the political and military situation of mid-seventeenth century Scotland some context. He also covers a most important factor which may often be overlooked in our more secular times – the religious fervour of the Covenanting army which was whipped up by the Kirk’s ministers accompanying the Scottish army. He writes about the professionalism of the Scottish troops in the early stages of the English Civil War – thanks mainly to many experienced Scottish mercenaries who returned home to fight in the Bishops Wars in 1639 after being blooded in Europe. The Thirty Years War (TYW) had been raging across the continent since the 1620s and tens of thousands of Scots found employment in the armies of Poland, Sweden and France. McRae calculates that during one period of the TYW, one in ten of the adult males of Scotland were European mercenaries. Colonel Fraser, who raised and led his Dragoons, had been four years in Swedish service for example.

The bulk of the book is about the Scots in the North of England and their war with Charles I; once Fraser’s Dragoons were disbanded McCrae still continues his history of Scottish soldiers in the War of Three Kingdoms, and covers the dark days of defeat at Preston, Dunbar and Worcester.

 It is clear McRae has done extensive research on the subject and his comprehensive End-Notes, giving short biographies on many soldiers mentioned in the book amongst other interesting snippets, is a very useful appendix.

 I am still not entirely convinced by the title, given the coverage of Scottish affairs and the fact we were ultimately trounced by the New Model Army in the 1650’s. Perhaps it should have been titled “How the Scottish won the First English Civil War” - but it is a very valuable and well researched addition to the historiography of this neglected period, from an author who is obviously passionate and knowledgeable about the period.

 How the Scottish won the English Civil War by Alisdair McRae is available from The History Press.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Registered Scottish Charity, No. SC043826

Several years ago something called the Scottish War Memorial Discussion Forum was set up online. This was to allow anyone to share their photographs and information about Scottish war memorials.

Over time our little group of volunteers has turned the discussion forum into a war memorial recording project, added another project recording war graves and dipped our toe into other work such as publishing rolls of honour transcriptions and giving talks.
Recently we’ve worked with Edinburgh University’s Edinburgh’s War project and are partners  in their new project  - Scotland’s War 1914-1919 - which has been set up to commemorate the First World War centenary.

A couple of years ago we formed ourselves into an association called the Scottish Military Research Group  to manage all our activities.

Our two databases are of national importance; no other organisation has recorded so much information on so many of Scotland’s war memorials and war graves and we need that data to be hosted on a more stable platform. However stable platforms need to be paid for and we currently have no money!

So, at the end of last year we applied to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to become a charity, because with charitable status we can apply for funding (and accept donations from anyone kind enough to give us some money) to help us run the projects and achieve our goals.

Today we reached another milestone in our little group’s own history when OSCR accepted our submission and entered us onto the charity register as Registered Scottish Charity, No. SC043826.

It’s taken us a while to reach this point. We are a small team who manage our projects, Blog, twitter account  and Facebook page  in the precious spare time between work and family commitments so achieving this status means a lot to us.

Thanks to everyone who has supported us so far and we hope you’ll now see some exciting developments from us in the next few months.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The City of Glasgow Police War Memorials

We are happy to announce the publication of the City of Glasgow Police War Memorial booklet.

The memorials to the Glasgow Police are on display in the Glasgow Police Museum, and Research Group members John and Margaret Houston have been researching the names listed on the memorial.

We are please to publish their research,and we would like to congratulate them on their hard work.

The research has been published through online "print on demand" site Lulu, and is available in downloadable pdf format.

Hello again!

We haven't updated the Blog for quite some time. You might have noticed...

As we do this in our spare time and family and work life takes up a substantial amount of what is left we found ourselves unable to keep up with the On This days and Who's Whos. 

We have also been using Twitter and Facebook as a way of passing on our news, which has been quite successful in spreading the news of what is happening in the world of Scottish military history.  

But the poor old forlorn Blog deserves better than suspended animation so we'll endeavour to start using it again when we have some news worth sharing. 

This week we most definitely have news worth sharing; we have got three new rolls of honour to launch and since they are all related to Glasgow we thought we'd have a "Glasgow Week".

Every day until Saturday 23rd February we'll use Twitter and Facebook to try and share the following:
Plus we'll send out anything else we find of interest relating to Glasgow and hopefully we'll get some interaction and be able to pass on other people's contribution to #Glasgow Week.